W2 employment is weird

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal titled Your Coworkers Are Less Ambitious; Bosses Adjust to the New Order.

The gist is that employees today are less likely to be hard chargers and volunteer for extra assignments, pursue promotions, or put in hours above and beyond reasonable expectations.

The CEO of a law firm said this about his employees:

The 56-year-old Mr. Zubiago says associates more often say no when asked to work weekends or take on extra work. That means partners sometimes have to ask multiple people before finding one who will put in the extra time. For time-sensitive work, like researching case law or reviewing documents by a deadline, that can create a “huge staffing problem,” he says.

There are a number of potential reasons why employees are focusing less of their efforts on their jobs. People feel they aren't being rewarded for their work, they want flexibility and aren't getting it, or they simply realize that there are other aspects of life that are more important then their career.

At the moment, W2 employees seem to have the upper hand due to the macro-economic environment. The labor pool shrunk so the the supply and demand favors competent workers. They have options so they can be a little more aggressive about pursuing new jobs with better conditions or negotiating better compensation at their current job.

But for me, being an employee has always felt a bit unnatural. I'm not actually sure it's natural for anyone.

It always seemed like employers wanted you to be part of their pseudo-cult and invest a good chunk of your identity into the organization.

Being an employee has perks to be sure. It solves the money problem in pretty straightforward way. It can also be a good place to learn new skills and, at good companies, allow for work-life balance.

However, I think if you want a life that doesn't revolve around 40 hour work weeks, you will ultimately need to work for yourself (or marrry someone and live off one income, or become independently wealthy).

If you are more ambitious, being a W2 employee generally doesn't reward you enough for the ambition, or allow you to be creative enough realize your ambition. In places that do reward ambition (law firms, investment banks, prestige consulting), it is highly competitive.

If you want more work-life balance, it's relatively tough to find professional jobs that allow flexible part time hours. Even remote friendly places still want close to 40 hours a week of "presence." Some of it is artificial, and some of it is just a natural consequence of needing to coordinate with others during business hours.

I expect that during the next recession people will shift back to being grateful for their jobs and start putting in the hours. Totally normal and logical.

But if you feel that W2 employee life isn't for you, it probably isn't.

PS: Here is a great article by Paul Graham, founder of Y-Combinator: You Weren't Meant to Have a Boss

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